Thursday, February 28, 2013

9 things I know about ADHD parents

It's funny how you can bond with other people like you when you are in a minority group of any kind. I've been in that situation 3 times. The first in Utah, a Catholic among Mormons. Anyone you met of any other faith - Catholic, Protestant, Baha'i, Wiccan, whatever - you bonded instantly.

The 2nd was as a female hydrological technician for the U.S. Geological Survey and later for the University of South Carolina. I was the only woman in an office (or boat) of men. Eventually other women came on board, literally, and boy was I happy!

I find myself there a 3rd time having a child diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety. Things don't go for us like they do for other people. You have to work with your child every day on social skills and behaviors that come naturally to other kids. You can't just sign them up for a sport and drop them off at practice. You have to be there, helping them, guiding them.

They can melt down at the most inopportune of times. A simple grocery store trip can be a challenge, for us and the kids. I  know my son often feels bad when he acts on an impulse instead of keeping control. He tries really hard to do his best and often isn't aware how outside things influence him. Even on medication, there are things they need to be taught. For further proof, I felt like this lady was speaking for me.

Most people don't understand what we're dealing with, both with behavior and the response of parents, teachers, family members, strangers. If I happen to meet another parent willing to admit their struggles, we have an impromptu support group right then (here you can find actual support groups and check Google for online groups). I've met several of these parents over the years.  Here's what I know about them:

1) We have to practically wear a suit of armor. Each year we have to talk to a new teacher about our child's challenges and how to help them. We have to come to every meeting armed with strength, resolve and information. I was once certain my 5-foot-5-inch self was taller than a nearly 6-foot tall teacher. Cooperation is a necessity, but it has to come from both sides. With proper steps by both the parent and teacher, and medication if necessary, these kids can be managed well. But it takes willingness, time, creativity & patience.

2) We are good researchers. These parents can tell you about all kinds of medicines, their side effects, which ones worked and didn't work for their kid. We've looked up ways to help in the classroom, at home, how diet can affect ADHD, natural remedies, discipline methods, etc. Knowledge is our main tool.

3) We're probably the least judgmental parents there are. Nearly every one I've talked to has been judged many times over. People are so certain the child's challenges come from lax parenting or parents giving in. We don't. Trust me. If we did, our home life would be a mess. We don't baby them, we don't "poor you" them. We want them to be successful human beings and we know giving in wouldn't achieve that.

Our kids are just different. They don't respond to traditional motivation and discipline. Don't think we haven't tried it. We have. They just need something extra. So if a child acts up in front of us, we will likely give the parent a sympathetic smile and say, "I know how you feel." And we will not make assumptions about them.

4) We are interpreters for our children. Honest to goodness, the world does not understand these kids. This is not an excuse for them or their behavior. We hold our kids to high standards, we work with them every day, but they are different, in physical ways even. Check out this article that points to brain chemistry.

They require a different approach. This does not mean they are in need of a separate "special education," just a different method of response. We acknowledge kids have different learning styles. Why not different styles of discipline, consequences, rewards and motivation?

So we interpret for the outside world what works for our child. I was once told my son "tripped" other children on the bus "just to be mean." That was simply incorrect. Three busloads of kids were merged into 2 that day and in his mind, those extra kids did not belong there. He wanted to keep them off. That was outside his routine and it didn't make sense, it didn't follow the rules. Doesn't mean we don't teach him the proper way to respond, but how would you feel if someone said you were being mean when you weren't?

5) We are very protective, not only of our child's physical and emotional well-being as all parents are, but of their spirit because I will tell you, there are people out there who will try to crush it.

6) Our child's struggles can affect our home life. I did a story once on a study that showed children of divorce are twice as likely to be on Ritalin, an ADHD medication. It's a chicken and egg situation. Are their behavior problems due to the divorce, or did the parents divorce because they couldn't figure out how to deal with the behavior problems? Here's an article on how it affects parents, marriage and siblings.

7) We're the first to admit our child isn't perfect. But we know it's not for the reasons most people think. We're not in denial, believe me. We work hard with our children every single day to teach them appropriate behavior. We take joy in small progress and use that as momentum for the next day and the next. But we believe with patience, time and unique approaches, our children will be okay.

8) We have to be very patient. If not, we risk being angry or frustrated with our kids every day, and we risk them picking up on our emotions and their behavior escalating. We have to resolve to guide them day after day, to tell them the same thing over and over until it sticks. To be models of calm, collected, appropriate behavior, even (and especially) when things don't go our way. We lead by example and model the behavior we want to see. We also want them to know no matter what happens in the rest of their world, we are their rock and see them for who they are. As always, this does not mean we don't lose control and lash out sometimes. But we try extra extra hard not to. 

9) We're flat-out exhausted some days, maybe a lot of days. These kids take time and effort. But they are worth it.


  1. Love love love this and needed to read this today. Thank you.

    1. I'm so glad it spoke to you on a day it was needed. It's such a blessing when that happens.


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